We decided to head out into Staffordshire today. After a quiet week, there appeared a mass of reports on Friday which meant we had loads of target birds to see. There was the LESSER WHITETHROAT and LONG-EARED OWL in Stoke, two BLACK REDSTARTS at Gailey and Blithers, WATER PIPIT and WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE at Doxey, the photographers favourite GREAT GREY SHRIKE, plus a visit to the A38 corridor of pits. I realised that we probably had too many targets planned for the day, and we would probably miss a few of them, and we did!
Westport didn't take long as there wasn't much too see - it was also quite windy and rainy there again. We decided to skip the local birds and headed down to Doxey. As we parked up, there were quite a few cars turning up, and people getting out with binoculars. I thought that maybe the WATER PIPIT was attracting quite a crowd, but then it suddenly dawned on me what was going on - it was an organised walk! We quickly grabbed our stuff and headed off, just before everyone could start smiling at us and saying things like "Morning" and "Hello". It was quite embarrassing that some people thought we were coming on the walk as well. A close shave indeed.
The problem with Doxey today was that it was extremely windy again. All the geese were spread out, in ditches or just with their heads down. We couldn't find the WHITE-FRONTS anywhere. The paths to the WATER PIPIT zone were also quite flooded. Fortunately we were armed with wellies, and luckily, the guided walk party didn't follow us. But the WATER PIPIT just wasn't going to show today with such a strong wind. We did have a pipit sp fly up from the Pensioner Pollards, but it didn't call, and it landed in long grass. We did see a pair of Pintail and eleven Barnacle Geese, but not much else.
We had spent a little bit longer at Doxey than we planned, and so we decided against going to Blithers for the BLACK REDSTART as I thought that it could be tricky to find in the strong wind. We headed for Upper Longdon instead. On arrival, things looked a little bit bleak. The lay by was full of cars and there were birdwatchers and photographers literally scattered all over the area. We decided to head down into the valley where it would be quieter and more sheltered. We walked down with Hughie King, but had only walked a few yards when I spotted the Great Grey Shrike flying in low over the heather. It perched briefly, then it proceeded to hover. Never seen a shrike do this before, unless it was the wind that caused it. We also met another one of the long lens boys who'd said he'd taken over 700 shots of the bird so far.....
The stump on the right is one of its perches
The Upper Longdon Great Grey Shrike - nicely digiscoped from a safe distance
Next stop was in the A38 corridor set of pits. Full of Coot and Wigeon again, plus nearly 400 Lesser Black-backed Gulls were pre-roosting. Over 80 Pochard was a good count, but only four Goosander and 10+ Goldeneye were rather low. A pair of Pintail were the highlight.
With just enough light left, we hot footed it down to Chasewater for the roost. I realised why I find gull roosts so much fun after standing still for an hour and a half in a cold, icy wind, slowly getting colder and colder. RP struck first blood with an adult Med Gull, showing quite well.
Now excuse time and I do apologise for the quality of the next photo, but the light was fading. The picture illustrates the problem with gulls. One Herring is in immaculate s/pl and the other has an almighty dark hood. But they are the same species!
Next up was a sub adult Iceland Gull that I found, but only later did it come into the main roost and showed well. It wasn't the best of roosts as most of the big gulls decided to roost on the shore in a mass huddle. There could have been more white-wingers about, but we just couldn't see them!